Extractivism Staggers

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Conflicts over Tia Maria Mine have left 4 people dead in Peru.

By Raúl Zibechi
Translated by Chiapas Support Committee

Resistance to extractivism [1] is sweeping the Latin American continent, from north to south, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, involving all the countries, forcing governments to put its military in the streets and decree states of emergency to terrorize populations that no longer yield, because they are suffering the consequences of the model.

Open sky mega-mining, large public works like hydroelectric dams, mono-crops fumigated with glyphosate and real estate speculation are being responded to as never before in intensity, extension and duration. The peoples are obtaining pueblos important victories in recent years: paralyzing the planting of Monsanto seeds in Malvinas Argentina; stopping the Barrick Gold, Pascua Lama bi-national project; postponing the construction of dozens of dams, as happened with La Parota, in México.

In recent weeks it has been the population of Arequipa, in southern Peru that is forcing the government of Ollanta Humala to decree a new state of emergency, after a fourth victim died because of police repression within the framework of an indefinite strike that has now lasted more than 60 days against the Tia María copper project of the Southern Copper company.

It is probable that Peru is the epicenter of the resistances to mining, with an average of 200 socio-environmental conflicts since 2008. In Brazil not only is there resistance to mining but also to large hydroelectric projects like Belo Monte, besides multiple resistances to real estate speculation (urban extractivism), which advances feverishly in Río de Janeiro facing the 2016 Olympics.

The Argentine pampa is the epicenter of resistance to the soy model, where the Mothers of Ituzaingo, the Argentine Malvinas Assembly, Stop Fumigating Us campaign and committed doctors stand out, who from June 15 to 18 organize the Week of Teaching Training for Dignified Science and Socio-Environmental Health in Rosario.

Until now no unified or centralized resistance exists, not on a regional scale or in each of the countries, but the multiplicity of struggles is coordinated in the streets, without the need for a unified apparatus. As the latest report of the Latin American Observatory of Mining Conflicts (OCMAL) [2] points out, “all this effort for maintaining mining extractivism is more widely criticized every day and delegitimized by broad sectors of society, and mining does not achieve convincing the population of its advantages” (OCMAL, April 2015, p. 101).

A certain similarity exists between current resistance to the extractive model and worker resistance to Fordism in the 1960s. Factory workers succeeded in disarticulating production based on direct resistance in every section and every shop, and based on direct action without depending on union bureaucracies, until the discipline and division of labor were defeated. It seems necessary to insist that it was a non- institutional struggle, not even openly declared, but so effective that it bent capital within its own territories, the factories, forcing a complete restructuring of the productive apparatus.

Something that we can learn from that wave of workers struggles is that to overthrow a model of domination what is central is what happens on the ground where that model is applied, the governments and the state administrations being completely unimportant. The struggle and direct resistance cannot be substituted, as the chronicles compiled in the infinity of works and stories teach.

On this point it’s necessary to emphasize that there is not a moment of defeat or “final struggle,” as the stanza of The International (La Internacional) says, because what’s decisive is the long process of direct actions that achieve engaging the mechanism of domination. From the time Fordism [3] and Taylorism [4] were implemented until they were overthrown and neutralized, more than half a century had transpired; two or three generations of workers were necessary to find the weak points of the employers’ gear.

What is happening against extractivism must be the source of multiple lessons; with an eye placed on the history of resistances and another on the present, we are able to draw some conclusions.

The first is that the indigenous peoples, blacks and mestizos champion the resistance in the areas where the mining companies, the mono-crops and the infrastructure mega-projects are deployed. We’re talking about a broad and heterogeneous framework of campesinos, rural workers and inhabitants of towns, where the role of women and their families is emphasized. It is a face-to-face struggle against corporations and governments, almost always without support from the institutions, which only make themselves present when the larger part of the population occupies the streets.

The second is the importance of the defense of water, the principal common good affected by extractivism. In some countries, like in Uruguay, the urban population started to react against the model al verifying the deterioration of the water quality that it consumes. In that way they were able to articulate alliances in effect between rural and urban, among grass roots collectives unions, between workers and scientists.

The third is the variety of forms of struggle that, at any moment, gain in massiveness provoking social explosions that are not spontaneous but rather the fruit of a prolonged labor of distribution and organization. Something of that happens these days in Arequipa, when the better part of the population of the villages and towns, first, and of the big city, later, forms an opinion against mining.

The fourth is the importance of small local and territorial groups, made up of members and neighbors, generally young. These kinds of groups are decisive because on their part the initial information that enables debate among broader sectors of the affected population.

Extractivism is still far from being demolished. But we already see that it staggers.


Notes:

  1. Extractivism is the English translation of extractivismo, which Zibechi uses for describing capital’s “accumulation by dispossession.” In Mexico, the word most used to describe “accumulation by dispossession” is despojo. Urban extractivism is, at least in part, what we call “gentrification” in the U.S.
  1. Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros de América Latina 
  1. Fordism – A technological system that depends on mass assembly-line production.
  1. Taylorism – A factory management system developed in the late 19th Century to increase efficiency by evaluating every step in the manufacturing process and breaking down production into specialized repetitive tasks.

 

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